Every act of aloha counts. Click here to DONATE to the MAUI RELIEF Fund.            

Mustang Standout Returns To Play As Pittsburgh Panther

When the NCAA moved up the official start date two weeks for college basketball, it was all fine with Josh Ko. The former Kalaheo standout’s love for the game hasn’t wavered since his arrival at University of Pittsburgh as a freshman walk-on in 2013.

Playing at the Division I level also has been a good fit for his competitive approach. “It’s a totally different experience (from high school),” said Ko by phone late last week on the eve of Pittsburgh’s 2014-15 season. “It’s all big-time basketball now. The biggest thing now is the physicality. Guys are really tall and strong at this level. It’s like going into a game every day. You have to bring it every time. I’m adjusting.

“It’s been a great experience here,” he added. “Just to be able to learn from coach (Jamie) Dixon and to live on the East Coast is a totally different experience.”

When Ko saw the schedule shortly after its release, he also knew it would be a “November to remember.” The Panthers will play three games in Hawaii, beginning Nov. 21 against University of Hawaii at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku. Three days later, Pittsburgh meets Chaminade in the first round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. The Panthers will play either BYU or San Diego State Nov. 25 and an opponent still to be determined Nov. 26.

“I’m very excited to be coming home to see some friends and family and eat some local food,” he said. “My first stop will be anywhere that makes a great poke bowl.”

Since attending Pittsburgh, Ko has come to enjoy the change in the seasons. “I like to see the leaves changing colors,” he said, “and I’ve enjoyed some snow for a couple of days before hating it.”

On the court, Ko will battle for playing time at a guard spot on a team stocked with talent; he appeared in 12 games last year as a freshman. The Panthers finished 26-10 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Ko was named the Gatorade Hawaii Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the 2012-13 season after leading Kalaheo to the second of back-to-back Division I state titles. He averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, shooting 58 percent from the field, 49 percent from 3-point range and 70 percent from the free throw line his senior year of high school. While there, he also earned a reputation as a clutch player. In Kalaheo’s 60-54 win over Maryknoll in the state title game, Ko totaled 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting and added three assists, capturing the state’s Most Outstanding Player honors for the second straight season in the process.

It was by way of Kalaheo head coach Alika Smith that Ko found his way to Pittsburgh. Dixon served as a University of Hawaii assistant coach under Riley Wallace during two separate stints before moving on to head coaching positions at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh. He recruited Smith when he was coming out of high school.

“I was looking at Creighton and Xavier,” said Ko, who had a 3.57 GPA in high school. “I came home one day, and my dad (Marvin) told me, ‘You’re going to University of Pittsburgh to play basketball.’ I was super happy.”